26 September 2007

Time and trash water

It’s rather akin to the type of deception and slowing of time made hilariously famous in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when the parking garage workers roar through the streets of Chicago in a blazing red Ferrari.

What effect can the same passage of time have on an individual? The common cliche is that to an Olympic sprinter a hundredth of a second is everything but to a child dancing in the autumn leaves it is absolutely meaningless. The concept of time, a trinity with speed and distance, is often thought of in mechanical units. Yet, this trinity also has an emotive quality as well.

650 BCE - Use of water clocks in Assyria

I had the distinct impression that time had entered our lives and gotten away with murder. This was three weeks back, when visiting three of my closest PCV friends in The Gambia. We looked as if we had been dragged along as Time played a game knowing full well the conditions for victory. This knowledge was of course to our eyes, buried in the sand.

321 CE - Constantine’s calendar uses 7-day week

There was a moment when the three of us were all quietly sitting together, lost in our own thoughts,that this impression was most vivid. I scanned the room and was met by faces that all looked tired, weathered, and aged more than the 14 months that we have known each other and The Gambia would otherwise suggest. It’s as if the weight of this direction in life had brought exhausting extremes of joy, failure, kindness, loneliness, and experience.

When I returned home I looked at a photo album containing pictures from the last few years of my life. I closed the album and looked in the mirror. The change was undeniable.

1202 CE - Mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci introduces Arabic numerals to Italy

If I let myself indulge in a pleasant fantasy, I would find myself studying the standardization of time in the Western sense and how it shaped our thinking of the world around us.

Cross cultural realizations; Americans perceive speed, as controlled by our own actions (Cars, Internet, Microwave ovens, Satellites), from a historical framework that has been growing for centuries. Sail ships, the pony express, steam engines, railroads, telegraph, automobiles, aircraft, electronic communication, the list is endless and increasingly moving towards speeds that can only be comprehended by the average person as abstract concepts. Microseconds not miles.

In the particular case of cars we live in a society that was eased into moving and controlling the high speeds that they provide. First eased in under the simple thought of excessive speed with steam ships and railroads and then to the autonomy of the motor vehicle.

1858 CE - First transatlantic telegraph cable

I still am not sure what the sequence of events that introduced automobiles to The Gambia was, but it seems a bit of a precarious position to force such a massive change on a society without proper preparation or education. It feels like it all happened at once, no slow historical precedent or socialization. It’s possible the general public has only been exposed to motor vehicles for the past 40 years. In terms of how one might contemplate the relationship of time, speed, and distance, the sudden availability of broken down boxes of Steel and Speed is rather like giving a four year old a old unreliable bike that has no training wheels and expecting him to ride it like a Tour champion. Impossibly high learning curve as cultures clash.

1961 CE - Soviet cosmonaut orbits the Earth

What are some observations on the result of this sudden jolt of speed?
Safety, many vehicles lack working speedometers and I fear the drivers rely solely on intuition to gauge their “safe” speed.
Appropriate warning, it is common to hear a passenger request, “Drive give me here” (Stop! I want to get out now) about two seconds from when the car would otherwise have passed the desired intersection. The driver has to slam hard on the brakes, dealing with an angry passenger yelling at him (female drivers are a rarity) for missing their stop. Brake lights tend to be broken on many vehicles...
Faster = has the right of way, pedestrians, donkey carts, bicyclists, older people with canes, all are supposed to yield to a person in a car. Why? The faster you go the more right of way you get. I’ve seen this cultural norm push old women into ankle deep muddy trash water*, boys on bicycles with no brakes run into each other and crash, and cars pulling risky two lane passing maneuvers on streets crowded with people going home form a football match. Sound familiar? As I last recall aggressive and foolish SUV drivers were experts in these arts.

* This term was coined one lazy Sunday afternoon in college when my roommate Matt Meyer and I were in our back yard setting up a Whiffle Ball field. It had rained hard the night before filling up anything skyward pointing concave object to gather liters of water. We weren’t paying careful attention to our surroundings and knocked over an entire trash can which contained a number of old pizza boxes, beer bottles, moldy notebooks, Campbell’s Soup cans, and a whole load of rain water. What crashed, spilled, and flowed out of the trash can went all over our legs and shoes and was distinctly foul. After that second pause to accept the reality of the situation I yelled out in anger/frustration/laughter, “Damn it, trash water!?” Matt started laughing hysterically at me, himself, and the situation and it stuck ever since...

19 September 2007

Just read the last post...

...it was supposed to be this week’s post, but caught up in the chuckles and jokes when writing it, I couldn’t help but unleash it into the wild. Open the “Top Gun” link for the first time (or again) and witness some pure 80’s magic.


We’re about a week into Ramadan and I find a lot more people display a greater interest in astronomy than during the other 335 days of the year. The moon is visibly growing, a reassuring if not completely expected symbol of the passage of time, and I’m sure its dependable cycle strengthens confidence in the permanence of life, religion, and God.

I of course still look at the stars and planets for their beauty. As the rainy season dies, the sky becomes filled with heat lightning. Flashes of light on the horizon, clear open skies, a brilliantly lit moon, and a chorus of stars twinkling with different magnitudes still make the evening sky a source of awe and wonder.

We broke fast last night with some cream of potato soup that I made. Yes, I still am limited by the skill set of the college male cook, but despite this the meal was pleasantly tasty. Kaddy and I shared a bowl so that we could add a ton of pepper (Thai style I thought to myself), while Daboe, who prefers a more plain taste, kept a separate bowl of mild soup.

Two of the new education volunteers in the area and I are fasting this month. A few mornings ago we chatted before we all ran off to our respective work places and agreed the worst thing about the fasting is: The early morning eating. Waking up at 5am and trying to stuff our stomachs puts us in a difficult spot. Eat and drink too little and the day is endlessly irritating. Eat too much and you not only feel sick, but you can’t even attempt to go back to bed for those 45 minutes of so before you have to wake up for the second time and truly start your day...

Prayer calls seem to have tripled in their intensity. They seem to have gained an omnipresent voice, which might just be the point of it all.


There are some things that speak to you at just the right time...

...and there are some passages from The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro which struck me as fine examples of artistic brilliance. Of course they need to be fully appreciated in context, but perhaps this will compel one to find their local library and read the book for themselves. Special applause to Mr. Ishiguro who was able to control the tone and psychology of his main character masterfully.

“As I say, I have never in all these years thought of the matter in quite this way; but then it is perhaps in the nature of coming away on a trip such as this that one is prompted towards such surprising new perspectives on topics one imagined one had long ago thought through thoroughly.”

“I set off again, maintaining for some reason - perhaps because I expected further farm creatures to wander across my path - my slow speed of before. I must say, something about this small encounter had put me in very good spirits; the simple kindness I had been thanked for, and the simple kindness I had been offered in return, caused me somehow to feel exceedingly uplifted about the whole enterprise facing me over these coming days. It was in such a mood, then, that I proceeded here to Salisbury.”

“One could presumably drive oneself to distraction in this way. In any case, while it is all very well to talk of ‘turning points’, one can surely only recognize such moments in retrospect. Naturally, when one looks back to such instances today, they may indeed take the appearance of being crucial, precious moments in one’s life; but of course, at the time, this was not the impression one had. Rather, it was as though one had available a never-ending number of days, months, years in which to sort out the vagaries on one’s relationship...”

Cheers, as one might say across the pond.

15 September 2007


Make it, mod it, hack it, wing it: We live in the age of DIY. So, with a little help from my fellow Education PCVs, we present the first annual How To Guide. Think of it as your manual for life in 21st century Gambia - advice on how to make big books, beat intestinal worms, and captain a softball team are all inside. From the Education group of 2006-2008 including two adopted members, extenders from the 2005-2007 group.

Bonus: Ed. Volunteers, see if you can find yourself. About 12 people were used.
Illustrations by Yaya.


How to: Extend for a Third Year
1 > Have a good reason. Strong projects, marriage, a new country of service, or specific aspects of your service that you feel are missing are all valid reasons. Avoid reasons that you forcefully have to justify such as: fear, not knowing what to do next, possibility of relationships/weak relationships, or laziness.
2 > Tell your APCD and CD! This can be an often forgotten fact as you involve fellow volunteers in the decision making process. Disaster could result from failure to adhere to this step.
3 > Get to know the group that came after you. They are your new family and you’ll need their help in many of the same ways that you needed the help of your own group.
4 > Take your month leave to go home, eat some Wendy’s, take a stroll through a neighborhood park, and relax. This is a deceptively difficult step since most people have a list of things to do that would take more time than what is actually alloted to them. Plan the trip well and be sure to include a few days of doing absolutely nothing, be prepared for them to end up being busy anyways.
5 > Get on the plane to return to The Gambia. Enjoy your last chance for the next 11 months to be sitting in air conditioning, being waited on by someone, and watching television. Travel back to site in a gele-gele and do your thing.

How to: Make Big Books
Qualified as ‘masters’ on the ABBA (American Big Book Association) Exam Becca and Rachel have made a name for themselves by creating the most colorful, detailed, and interesting big books. Their biggest piece of advice? Shade the backside of your tracing paper (the side that rests on your final book), that way when you trace a nice clear thick line will appear on your final book.
1 > Find time to create! Most people underestimate how long taking a big book will make, especially if it involves a lot of characters and detail. Allow at least one hour per page.
2 > Search for good source material. Unless you are the next Theodor Geisel or Mercer Mayer don’t rely on your own artistic skill. Mix and match pictures from books even if the style is somewhat different. As long as your final book is consistent it will work.
3 > Trace the source material. Don’t forget to trace the words if there are special fonts or effects required by the text.
4 > Transfer your traces to the big book.
5 > Stop. Take a break and chat with whomever is in the room with you. Your hands and mind need a break. Eat a snack and have a drink. The break will also allow you to see if you’ve left anything out. Suggested food and drink: Peanut butter and bread (You need your protein) and Foster Clark’s drink mix (You need your fruit flavor, vitamin C, and sugar).
6 > Colorize and fill in the pictures. Be creative, add landscapes, minor characters, hidden secrets, and color. Don’t detract from your original message too much unless your job is to create the next “Where’s Waldo” (In which case go crazy and add people dancing to boom boxes, Ancient Egyptian pharaohs , or a witch cooking with a bubbling cauldron).
7 > Present your big book to your school, community group, APCD, or other appreciating person.

How to: Successfully Switch Sites
1 > Have a good reason to leave. Too many volunteers aren’t willing to give their site a chance. Your site is what you make it, and you have to give it time to make it something you like. If it still is horrible after 9 months to a year, then and only then seriously consider switching.
2 > Talk to your APCD and make a good case for your move. Include cultural and work related issues since that makes up 100% of a PCVs job. Hint: Strong prepared arguments are best, ‘It just sucks, the people aren’t good’ probably won’t be convincing but ‘I think I could be more effective running after school programs at a school with a feasible science lab’ probably will.
3 > Move to your new site. Remember to do all the cultural things associated with a new member of a community. Give Kola nuts to the Al-Kalo (Village head), community leaders, the Imam, and host family heads. Go and greet your new host community members.
4 > Don’t be afraid to give up your previously learned language. If your new village is predominantly of another ethnic group learn their language as soon as possible. Bonus: If you can learn to adequately speak more than one language people will think your mind is ‘that much sweeter’ and you’ll probably get an according increase in the amount of marriage proposals.


How to: Beat Intestinal Worms
Sarah has overcome everything from the flu to worms. She fears nothing and now can kill off disease by just staring it down.
1 > Remember that early on you don’t have Thundercat strength quite yet, so don’t rush into things. Most village food contains some bacteria or parasite, but until your body adjusts you can't kill them off naturally.
2 > Watch for symptoms. If your stomach is running too much or if it is running not at all, you probably have worms. Start to read books like “Where there is No Doctor” and become appropriately paranoid.
3 > As the pain increases don't give up! Listen to your PC medical officers and let them try traditional medicine first.
4 > If all else fails drink your worms under the table and out of your system. Hint: Worms apparently hate alcohol. Start downing beer like a college Freshmen and don't quit drinking until the worms pass through and you’ll have the strength of ten Grinches, plus two. Go out and celebrate your victory, Thundercats Hoooo.

How to: Be the Farthest Up Country, Have the Most Fun, and Have No One Know What the Heck You’re Up To.
1 > Be in a village far up country which will detract all lazy unadventurous Kombo volunteers from visiting. If this can’t be done try and find a site that is far off the main highway and hard to get to. Both these will maximize your seclusion factor and add to the mystery.
2 > Find your niche in the community and go out enough that when you walk the streets it seems like everyone greets you and recalls a story of their favorite experience with you.
3 > Have just enough people visit to show them how much fun you are having, but not give any details that would demystify the experience. Don’t let the visitor linger too long or they’ll discover too much!
4 > Let the mystery of your happy existence in The Gambia spread through the PCV gossip network.
5 > Live like a King, with everyone scratching their heads as to how you do it.

How to: Dress for Success
Dan has pulled off some of the most creative, attractive, and hilarious outfits throughout his year and a quarter in The Gambia. His stylistic epiphany apparently came during In Service Training when he realized that Gambian clothing was missing one important thing, America. So he combined Gambian style clothes with American Flag patterned fabric and came out with spectacular results.
1 > Buy fabric that speaks to you. Ideally you should pick something that speaks not only to your personal tastes but also to your country; spend the time to find cloth that is patterned with the American Flag, patriotic colors, George Bush, army camo, etc.
2 > Find your favorite tailor and tell him to make the outfit a ‘bit on the large size.’ This ensures that the outfit would best fit in an MC Hammer video making it awe inspiring on the streets of The Gambia. If you accurately tell your tailor ‘I want this to be oversized’ you risk receiving clothing that is large enough to be used as a small circus tent.
3 > Pick a venue and/or event to introduce your new ensemble. Wear like a suit made out of pure American pride. Smile and wave as you walk past people with gaping jaws of admiration.

How to: Live in Kombo and Still Save Money.
Terry is one of the most successful volunteers at keeping tack of his funds. No tricks here, just simple common sense. Live within your means, find the best deals for common items, and don’t give into the vices of the city.
1 > Survey the grocery stores and find the best deals for common items that you will be buying frequently. Stock up if you find particularly good values. Hint: Don’t forget to check Serrekunda market, sometimes items there can be bought in bulk for cheap. Have a plan when going in, wandering can be discouraging and distracting from your mission.
2 > Fail to plan and you plain to fail. Make a plan for how you want to spend your money. Include some discretionary funds for that occasional ice cream or night out for beers that you know you will be craving at some point or another. Follow how you are doing week to week recording your progress. At the end of the month compare the actual spent with your plan. Simple economics, period.
3 > KISS. Keep it simple stupid, don’t forget you are a Peace Corps volunteer. Do you really need that refrigerator, leather couch, Chinese dinner, or 60 watt light bulb?
4 > Cook for yourself instead of going out. With a little planning a crafty volunteer can usually make a better meal than local restaurants and save a significant amount of money. If you don’t know how to cook, learn quickly and don’t be afraid to experiment. Tip: Even if you are a poor cook you can start with some easy basics. Try vegetable soup mixes combined with chopped fresh vegetables and bread make a hearty easy meal.

How to: Show Gambians How to Rock Out Like an American
1 > Live in an adequately small village where your actions will be seen and heard by the entire community.
2 > Fly a huge American flag over your hut so that anyone in a 2km radius can see it clearly.
3 > Wear large sunglasses that depending on your expression can either make you look like you’re from “Top Gun” (Note: Soundtrack personnel included) or a bad-ass police officer.
4 > Go out to the fields and show Gambians how farming gets done in good old Iowa.
5 > Visit America to remind yourself where you came from, and don’t forget to pick up new shades. Come back and continue to rock out.


How to: Prank Your Site Mate’s House
1 > Know your enemy. Find out what kinds of things a volunteer hates to love and loves to hate. This way the prank is aggravating enough but won’t get you killed. This is your site mate after all, you have to live with seeing them again.
2 > Get to know your site mate’s host family. Familiarity with who you are will allow you to get away with a whole lot more than if you are a stranger. Hint: Keys to doors or special entrances to homes are often kept with the family.
3 > Pick a time to pull the prank when you have adequate time to pull it off. Well planned pranks that take time to develop are usually the most rewarding and can be easily executed when the site mate is on a long vacation.
4 > Pull your prank. Example: Paint their house to look like a Kindergarten classroom including ABCs, a yellow brick road of knowledge, and animal pictures.
5 > Sit back and wait for the inevitable payback.

How to: Send a Baffling Text Message
1 > Live life for the inexplicable crazy moments, write them down, keep them in your head, or take a picture so that accurate details are captured.
2 > Open a new text message. Write the message based on one of your specific experiences and be as detailed as possible. Don’t give any hint as to the reason or meaning behind the message. Don’t write a question or imply any response is needed at the end of the text.
3 > Choose to send the message that you rarely talk to otherwise. The recipient’s confusion and lack of context to your message will create vivid pictures far off the actual mark.
4 > Sit back and wait for a puzzled reply.

How to: Captain a(n unsuccessful) WAIST Softball Team
1 > Select your team. No luxury of MLB scouts or talent here, these are PCVs we are talking about. Put names in a hat and pull at random. Better yet start the competitive spirit early and have potential team members play a massive rock, paper, scissors tournaments to weed out the elite from the unlucky.
2 > Get uniforms. Nothing fancy, this distracts from your game play. Simple fabric or tie and dye that can be obtained anywhere in country is fine. You need uniformity here not the latest sports wear from Nike.
3 > Start casual drinking approx. one hour before game time (even if game time is 8am). Create and open and fun atmosphere where it is OK to make mistakes. People go to WAIST to have fun, not to be yelled at.
4 > Don’t show up for your team’s final game. Tell people you were too hung over to make it, even if you weren’t, this is the most plausible and excusable justification. And hey your team might not care, without your leadership it’s likely they will win their only game of the tournament.

- 2007 HOW TO GUIDE: PCV Gambia Edition
All Respect given to the real Wired Magazine and their work

12 September 2007

Next Stop: Jurassic Park

Bringing your Computer Lab into the 21st Century

I’ve been meaning to print the following essay in the Education Newsletter, but my co-editor and I haven’t found a good place to fit it in. Since it might not ever make it in the newsletter, I thought I’d post it here on my blog. The essay was originally written to give an overview of current trends with ICT education in The Gambia, and was intended to help new volunteers create relevant and timely courses. The theory behind it might be useful to anyone doing ICT development work, so hopefully it’ll reach a wider audience.

As an educator we must remember to look at the overall trends. It seems as though the age of the personal computer is over and we have come of age in the world of the networked computer.

Footnotes for the American (or non-Gambian) reader are appended to the end of the article.

The upcoming year could bring about a sea change in computer education in The Gambia. With more reliable NAWEC (1) power reaching farther regions of the country, we now have an opportunity to create up-to-date and quality labs.

However, increasingly it will not be enough to teach the computer as a standalone box. If we observe the world around us it is the network which serves as the de facto reason of why one should learn to use a computer. By educating Gambian students about the computer and the network, we are no longer merely resurrecting the dinosaur, but also rebuilding the whole of Jurassic Park (2). Teaching the computer as a communication medium rather than as an independent box ensures that our students receive contemporary computer literacy training.

But how do we accomplish this as we transition from a world of struggles over FOIL (3), solar, or connection to the national power grid? Obviously getting the lab power is essential to the hands on experience, but even before that we can prepare our students for when the entire spectrum is available. Here, I have given a few suggestions of what you can accomplish in your lab without power, with power but no network, and finally with a network.

When dealing with a no power situation, try using physical models of a network that describe the basics of why a network allows for reliable and efficient communications. This could be done using drawings, or physical objects such as bottles tied together with string. Try creating small circles of students with their arms tied together to the person to their immediate right and left. Tell students to pretend that they are a computer. Try sending a piece of paper that represents the data/message to be sent. “Cut” the network by removing some of the students. Is the network still functioning? Next have them hold hands with someone to the right of them and also to someone across from them. Now “cut” the network. Can the message still be delivered?

If you have a computer lab with power your options are vast indeed. However, I often see lab classes limited to teaching Microsoft Word or Excel; do not sell yourself short of the entirety of what computers can do! Starting with network foundations can be simpler and an easier introduction to computers.

For instance you could build a small school website. Simple HTML web pages are easy to code and take up very little space. Uploaded to every machine in your lab it could efficiently simulate an online experience. Try building a homepage with a few links to various eBooks, information about Gambia, or better yet interactive Flash based games to create a sense of confidence through explorative learning.

You could also download software that answers the inquisitive mind of students who are going online. We currently use numerous free and educational programs that go across a variety of subjects and disciplines including dictionaries, software for science, math, SES, and many others (4). These programs go a long way to familiarizing students with not only using a computer but also with what a computer can do.

The best thing about these methods is that if they are set up correctly the student interacts within a simplified and controlled world. That is you can forgo the pains of teaching complexities of the Windows OS (5) and start with something much simpler, giving the student a true feeling of control over the computer.

Finally, if you can get access to the internet a whole new world of possibilities opens itself. I would still suggest beginning your courses with an online simulation as described above, so that the range of complexity of sites they visit can be monitored. After that the world is at their finger tips, and without careful guidance students can quickly find themselves lost in the bottomless sea of information.

In order to keep students on track, be sure to introduce the online experience through specific user forums and discussion groups that can ease students into the conventions and standards of the online community. This controlled method of communication could be well paired with weekly questions from a World Links School (6) or outside source or even with internal school discussions. Cross cultural discussions with specific questions would give many Gambians a more complete and accurate view of the lives and ways of people living in another country.

We must be sure to teach relevant computer skills to our students. The computer and the network now act in unison to bring the world together; this is the most powerful application of computers today. If we fail to show the power of this then our students, the backbone of The Gambia’s future, will fall further behind in the world of IT.

Feel free to E-mail, text, or call me about software or ideas mentioned in this article.

(1) NAWEC - National Water and Electricity Company. Over the past year has brought energy to key cities up-country as well as improved reliability in the urban areas.
(2) Reference to an article all ICT volunteers are given during training entitled “Resurrecting the Dinosaur,” in which The Gambia’s first ICT PCVs described repairing and making old and outdated hardware operational.
(3) FOIL - Fuel Oil, gas in American English. The fuel for generators, and therefore is what many schools and organizations across the country have come to rely on.
(4) Much of this free software has been found with the help of the Website Educational Freeware (http://www.educational-freeware.com/) a great resource for any ICT development worker.
(5) Rather than being an attack on Microsoft, this should read, “complexities of any modern operating system.” The desktop metaphor we are so familiar with in the United States simply does not translate smoothly to West Africa.
(6) World Links - Peace Corps sponsored global pen pals and school collaboration agency.

05 September 2007

Welcome to -The Broken Drum- Bar and Restaurant

”Our eatery can’t be beat!
-From Terry Pratchett and the Discworld cast (Keeping me laughing and smiling through it all)

Harper’s Findings on Food and Drink:
> Mangos, high in fiber and essential vitamins, are quickly being consumed and current estimates say there is roughly 504 to 552 hours before stock supplies run out.
> Dinner parties are all the rage in the Brikama area. Birthday parties, welcoming new volunteers, or just silly fun are reasons cited as being in style and worthy of such a gathering. The Volunteer Happiness Index has risen to approximately Volume 5.8*.
> The holy month of Ramadan begins on the 13th of September. A famished and exhausted population is expected to reach its peak irritability rating by day 19, tapering off by day 28 when nutrient levels become too low to support mood swings or emotions.
> Domino’s Pizza (American Fast Food Pizza Chain) has introduced an OREO flavored dessert pizza. The pizza is made of a regular Domino’s crust, icing for the base layer, and chunks of OREO cookies for toppings. It is currently being sold for $3.99 if ordered with a qualifying “dinner” pizza. Doctor’s surveyed at 15 clinics at 12 of America’s largest cities from Los Angeles to Boston claim that American adult obesity levels have increased 38% over the past 10 years.

* As measured on an absolute scale ranging from Volume 5 to Volume 6. Visit the PCVs in the area and you’ll understand...


One of the other volunteers that I work with at the YMCA is from California, and she recently came back from a month long vacation visiting family and friends. Of note all the vegetables and fruit must have been good for her because she looked appreciably healthier than any of the other volunteers I’ve seen recently.

As we chatted and caught up she made some subtly perceptive remarks. Chiefly among which was, “That the thing is, there is a general misconception of progress from both the Gambian and American side. Being in America and looking at all the $200 jeans and t-shirts, fancy cars, and means of communication, I realized that all the stuff we have in America is also here in West Africa, just different.” She stopped for a second to fully contemplate the inference to be made, “It just seems a bit funny that all over the world our basic technologies haven’t changed a whole lot since the late 19th century. For example why do we still use gas powered cars to drive a few miles to work, school, or to eat? Isn’t it odd that Gambians revere America as this technological utopia, and isn’t it odd that we Americans think that we are so far advanced?”



We conclude this jumbled visit to The Broken Drum with a verbal painting.

The scene passed before my eyes like a distant spectacle. Perfectly Gambian in my own limited Peace Corps experience: removed but gigantic, lacking color value but Indescribable in audio and common sense. Best described as a sort of miss-mash of pieces that shouldn’t fit together, but like a small child with a challenging puzzle, forced, smashed, and bent into one.

It happened outside of a large Internet cafe surrounded by a familiar brown colored ground and Islamic green mosque spires. I was finishing a 30 minute conversation with my mother on my mobile**. The reception was thankfully not too terrible this time around, meaning only a 3 second delay and static fuzz every 3 minutes. A large 7 meter by 7 meter solar panel array stands inside the complex, slowly taking in the sun’s rays. A shirtless 16 year old Gambian male, wearing only brown pants and red foam sandals, is engaged in a shouting match with a fully clothed 25 year old. My conversation with my mother comes to an end as the boys take the shouting to the next level.

And without further ado let’s Level up! Round 2: Fist Fighting***.

The fists swinging and the shouts wailing last long enough for everyone to drop their jaw and admire the inexplicability of the situation. Then the theatrics are quickly pulled apart and quieted by friends, management, and customers. Each of the fighters are trying to maintain their manliness by giving one last gasp attempt to break free of the peace makers and throw in a final swing. Needless to say curses abound.

Throughout all of this in the background there is a large television hall filled with about 30 young men watching an English Premiership football match on full volume. They are chanting and cheering in tune with the game rather than the fight. Goals, fouls, and missed opportunities dictating the waves of noise.

A storm is brewing in the distance and clouds are rolling in without the usual silent thunder, but with a quiet confidence embodied in all things inevitable. It’s as if the clouds are looming and whispering, “We are coming. And yes, the storm will be big. Be ready.”

The final brush stroke of the image: goats. A small herd of five goats ‘baa’ing down the road, and being led by an quiet little lady who must have been well into her grand-parenting years. She looks on at all of the commotion, shrugs disinterested, and pushes her goats on past the fight, past the Internet cafe, past the cheering hooligans.

I get on my bicycle, an imported Trek from America, transportation that completely places volunteers further in the “white foreigner” lime-light, and ride off. The road is a muddy mess from the rainy season and my clothes make it home speckled with dots of mud.

** Yes, that’s mobile not cell phone. Other British English regulars (and their American counterpart): Rubbish (Trash), Rubber (Eraser), and Football (Football).
*** Steevo, being a nerd should be able to visualize the appropriate cheesy SNES/SEGA Genesis era Street Fighter II graphics I’m envisioning here. Ask him to paint you a picture, in the limiting tool set of Microsoft Paint if at all possible.